How to tell if you have a leaky gut and what you can do about it
If you have been struggling with your health and feeling like you have hit a wall in your progress or symptoms relapse sooner or later, you might have a case of leaky gut.
As you will soon understand, the health of your gut is one of the largest determinants of your overall health. Think of the gut as the trunk of the tree and the tree branches represent the systems of the body such as the skin, hormonal, energy, immune and nervous system. If the trunk is suffering, the branches will be affected. If you only address your issue at the branch level only, you are overlooking the trunk and leaving it to continue causing havoc.So I’m here to help you understand leaky gut and share with you the symptoms, conditions associated and treatment options of leaky gut to help you start the healing process.
What is a leaky gut?
Leaky gut also referred to as increased intestinal permeability is simply when your gut lining is more permeable (leaky) than it should be.
Why does leaky gut happen?
From your lower esophageal sphincter (the valve between your oesophagus and stomach) to your anus, your gastrointestinal tract is lined with just a single continuous layer of cells that separates the inside of the body from the external environment (1)
Each of these cells along your gut are linked together by tight junction (or TJ) proteins These TJ’s are the gateway between your intestines and your bloodstream. TJ’s are incredibly important as they have to maintain the balance between allowing vital nutrients to enter your bloodstream, while remaining small enough to prevent inflammatory nasties from your diet or lifestyle from entering into the bloodstream and onto the rest of your body. Leaky gut symptoms are a consequence of intestinal tight-junction being compromised (2).
What causes leaky gut?
In a healthy gut, these TJ’s are opening and closing all the time in response to a variety of stimuli including certain foods, bacteria or viruses and signals from your nervous, hormonal or immune systems (1). When there is acute exposure to a particular ‘stress’ the TJ’s can usually recover, but if there is chronic or high level exposure, recovery may start to become an issue. Some of the underlying causes of leaky gut include:
- Certain bacteria and dysbiosis (an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in your gut) such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (1).
- A highly refined, processed diet.
- Chronic stress (3)
- Over consumption of ‘toxins’ and inflammatory products, such as alcohol
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
So many symptoms and conditions are associated with a leaky gut due to the variety of roles and responsibilities your gut has.
Some stand out symptoms:
- Food intolerances and sensitivities (histamine, gluten and lactose)
- Congested or inflamed skin
- Mood issues
- Thyroid problems
- Nutrient malabsorption
- Digestive symptoms (bloating, constipated, diarrhea) (4)
Conditions linked with leaky gut:
- Coeliac disease
- Atopic dermatitis
- Gastric ulcers
- Infectious diarrhea
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Oesophageal and colorectal cancer
- Respiratory infections
- Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- Thyroid disorders
- Obesity-related metabolic diseases (fatty liver, type II diabetes, heart disease)
- Autoimmune disease (lupus, multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s, and more).
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Propensity towards weight gain or obesity (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
How do you treat leaky gut?
Supporting the immune system located in and around your gut wall (hence the massive link with autoimmune conditions) via probiotics is a good place to start. There are certain strains that prove better than others for gut healing and may be better suited to you and your health needs, so working with a qualified practitioner with knowledge of this and access to the right probiotics is advised. In the meantime, if broad-spectrum probiotics or fermented foods feel like they are supporting you and do not amplify symptoms then go for it (10).
This can be tricky as some of these triggers (such as dysbiosis) require practitioner support. Assessing potential dietary and lifestyle factors, such as known allergies or sensitivity that you are exposing yourself to, is a great place to start. Other potential causes like high alcohol consumption or a highly processed diet may be worth rethinking.
3.Eat a nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory diet
A high fibre, colourful whole foods diet is key. Lots of fruit and vegetables with quality protein will start providing your body with key gut healing essentials like zinc, vitamin A and glutamine.
4. Stress management
Identify your stressors and find ways to address these. I understand modern day living can be busy and full, but finding a way to incorporate rest and relaxation could be life changing. Find your own groove, whether it be art, yoga, cooking, meditation or daily affirmation, it doesn’t matter, as long it helps.
Can you test for a leaky gut?
Yes, you can!
If you identify with any of the above symptoms and conditions it’s time to team up with a naturopath to help treat leaky gut. Testing for it may also be useful, in a preventative sense, for those who may be at risk of developing an autoimmune disease (i.e. a particular autoimmune disease runs in the family and you suspect you have the gene). Although leaky gut may be assumed, the benefit of testing is that we can be certain of its presence, how much healing is required and is an objective way to measure progress with your individualised, holistic treatment.
How awesome is that!
In my Melbourne based online clinic, I test for leaky gut as part of my holistic approach to health. If you are ready to take your health to the next level, book in with me and let’s get started.